Tobyhanna Township Residents Angry with Supervisors, Demand Quick Resolution of Fire Company Dispute

SEP 19 2022, 7:30pm

POCONO PINES (Tobyhanna Township) – The recently-passed Fire Ordinance was not on the agenda for the Tobyhanna Township supervisor meeting in September, but it took up about half of the meeting anyway.

In the general comment portion, which is held at the conclusion of business in each meeting, fire company officials, members, and township residents had a limited opportunity to voice their concerns about the supervisor’s actions that resulted in the loss of a fire company previously responsible for covering 83% of the township.

During that portion of the meeting it was revealed that shortly after the adoption of the measure, township officials instructed the Monroe County Control Center, which provides 9-1-1 dispatch services for all of Monroe County, to stop dispatching the TTVFC to fires in the township.

TTVFC president Ed Tutrone called the supervisors out on the move, which appears to be motivated by something other than concern over safety. Referring to the August 12 letter in which the fire company said they would not agree to operate as a designated fire company under the then-proposed fire ordinance, but would continue to respond to dispatch calls without payment from the township, he said to the supervisors, “on August 15 you said if we rescinded the letter, we would continue to be recognized as a designated fire company. By doing so, you acknowledged that we were a competent fire company. What changes between then and August 23rd, when you instructed Monroe County Control Center not to dispatch us to any fire in Tobyhanna Township?”

No supervisors responded, but the township attorney read an edited excerpt from the August 12 letter in an attempt to respond. Mr. Tutrone noted the supervisors were using “all of the out-of-town fire companies on a mutual aid basis, but not the fire company in the town.”

When a resident asked the supervisors to explain “what prompted the ordinance,” supervisor Brendon Carroll said “it’s an accountability ordinance. We’re asking the fire company to be accountable for those funds. It’s that simple.”

The TTVFC says 42% of its funding comes from the township fire tax monies. They also say that virtually none of that is given directly to the fire company. Instead, the supervisors receive documentation of the expense and decide whether to approve it. When they do, a check is sent to the vendor itself and no tax money goes through the fire company accounts. Fire company officials contend that the township “accounts” for each dollar as it is spent and question what additional “accountability” they seek.

Chris Bowne, a TTVFC volunteer, addresses township supervisors to discuss the extensive certifications and trainings the TTVFC members have. (BORO Photo)

Supervisor David Carbone expanded on Mr. Carroll’s response. “This started with the Fire Commission. This has been going on for three years,” Mr. Carbone said. “We started with an MOU (“Memorandum of Understanding”). The MOU was discussed. What we were trying to do were contracts within the fire department.” He claimed the MOU was jettisoned over some dispute involving the Blakeslee fire facility. “So the MOU stopped. So from that point the MOU kind of turned into the ordinance. So we’ve had discussions with both fire departments over the past year year and a half. So this wasn’t drummed up three months ago this has been years in the making.”

A review of the public minutes shows that the MOU was first broached at a joint meeting of the supervisors and fire commission on May 7, 2021. At that time then-supervisor John Holahan suggested the solicitor meet with the fire companies to hammer out some sort of agreement.

At the next meeting, the solicitor said he was going to prepare an MOU. It wasn’t until September of 2021 that the solicitor said a draft MOU would be distributed to the board, which was then sent to the fire companies later that month. In late December, the solicitor tells the board to drop the MOU concept and start working on a fire ordinance.

That draft ordinance was published in early March. It was adopted in August.

Mr. Carbone also said he was concerned about whether the firefighters were properly trained. “Just because you put a blue light in your car doesn’t make you a firefighter. I hope if a firefighter comes to my house someone has shown him how to fight a fire.”

The reaction to the comment was swift and angry.

Chris Bowne, a TTVFC volunteer, rose to list the numerous certifications he has earned as a firefighter through extensive training. “The concept that we’re running with our blue lights on, acting like some kind of Keystone Kops or firemen that are untrained is false information being spread around.,” he bristled. “ We train every Tuesday night in this town. We’re fully certified in all of our apparatus. We volunteer our time for the good of this community.”

Township resident Tracy McGrath took to the podium to object to what she felt was a disparaging characterization of the township’s volunteer first responders. “All of you have no idea what you’re talking about,” she told the board. (BORO Photo)

Tracy McGrath took to the podium to object to Mr. Carbone’s characterization of the township’s volunteer first responders. “Your comments about our unprofessional untrained fire company are out of line,” she told Mr. Carbone. “My husband has been an EMT since he was 18. He’s 58 now. He has every fire license that he needs to have. He has left me and my son to go for training for weekends at a time. All of you have no idea what you’re talking about. What I really take offense to is saying my husband is untrained, just running around with his blue light on. That’s offensive and I’ve had enough of this stuff.”

Mr. Carbone then tried to walk back his “blue light” comment saying he meant to say that the ordinance requires that the volunteers have appropriate training. He denied saying that any specific person was untrained. “The blue light was a little bit much,” he finally conceded.

Jane Paparazzo turned the accountability issue back on the supervisors. She lives across from the fireworks store on route 115 in the township. “There was a call 5 days ago. Long Pond and Pocono Mountain responded,” she told the supervisors, “Not Blakeslee (a TTVFC station), which I can walk to from my house.”

“You want to talk about accountability? Well, this is on you. If that store had gone up, my home would be destroyed as well as those of my neighbors and businesses around there,” Ms. Paparazzo told the supervisors. “ There are people’s lives at stake and I am holding you accountable for it. I’m asking for cooler heads to prevail. Put this aside, put Tobyhanna back on calls until this litigation in court is finished.”

Resident Rich Tomer told the supervisors they were making the township a less safe place to live. “I moved here because I thought this would be a very safe place to be. I am starting to question that now,” Mr. Tomer said. “ That disturbs me, it disturbs my family, and it should disturb all of the residents and businesses in this township. It should never have come to this. I want to see a quick resolution on this.”

Following public comments, Mr. Carroll asked the TTVFC to publicly state who owns the equipment. Someone in the audience responded, “We do! Just like the library owns all the books.” Mr. Tutrone said the fire company, as an independent corporation, owns the equipment. the TTVFC as a non-profit corporation owns the equipment. “That equipment was not bought with all Tobyhanna Township taxpayer funds.” He said the fire tax money represents about 42% of the TTVFC funding.

Mr. Carroll and the supervisors seemed surprised to hear it was that low. Mr. Tutrone went on to say “We proposed to you guys if we decide we can’t cover anymore, we would turn all of that equipment over to Tobyhanna Township even though Tobyhanna Township did not give us all the money for it. That was not good enough.”

This would not be an unusual provision. Under Pennsylvania law, every non-profit corporation has to designate a recipient for its assets if it dissolves. The township would be an appropriate designee under that law.

“We have no intention of leaving, that’s why we asked you to make us second. We’re not asking you for funds, we’re not asking you to pay for our insurance. We will use our own funds. We are asking you to put us on the card as dual dispatch with Pocono Summit so that there is no delay in response to these residents. That can be done within 24 hours all it is is a matter of sending a letter (to Monroe County dispatch). I don’t understand why you’re not doing that until we get this resolved. “

Supervisors gave no indication of any willingness to consider that. The meeting was rapidly adjourned after that.

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